2017 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum
3.5-liter V6, DOHC (295 hp @ 6600 rpm, 263 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
20 city / 26 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
21.2 (observed mileage, MPG)
12.1 city, 9.0 highway, 10.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $47,200 (U.S) / $50,945 (Canada)
As Tested: $47,634 (U.S.) / $50,945 (Canada)
Prices include $940 destination charge in the United States and $1,915 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
It’s as if John Hughes and George Barris envisioned the coming swarm of SUVs and crossovers in the early Eighties. Why else would they name the metal-and-DiNoc star of National Lampoon’s Vacation a “Truckster,” when quite clearly the Country Squire-based behemoth in no way resembled a truck? Fast forward thirty-five years, and the default family-unit transport device is indeed something that is truck-like. Just from the top three brands, nearly three-quarters of a million three-row crossovers rolled off dealer lots last year alone. Beneath those butch facades lies a plush, roomy station wagon on stilts.
No stranger to high-volume family cars, Toyota has consistently placed near the top of the sales charts in the three-row crossover segment. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Limited is an incredibly popular choice for those who need plenty of space for cargo, human or otherwise, and for those who have embraced the crossover lifestyle.
Try as I might, I’ve not been able to use Toyota’s online configurator to option the Highlander with faux wood paneling.
Those sales figures are no joke – over 215,000 Highlanders found their way into American garages last year alone, behind only the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee in the midsize SUV market according to GoodCarBadCar.net. The Highlander follows the familiar formula – take a hugely popular family sedan (the Camry) and make it massive.
The heft of the Highlander isn’t unflattering. If you squint a bit, there is a slight family resemblance to the 4Runner, the traditional body-on-frame stablemate – though the deep front fascia betrays the Highlander’s road-focused mission. There isn’t much that can be done to dress up the traditional two-box style of a crossover, though the Highlander is reasonably handsome save the massive grille that resembles a six-bladed Gillette.
I do rather like the dark polished 19” alloy wheels featured as part of the Platinum package – even though they shrink the tire sidewalls a bit from 60-series to 55-series. Typically on any non-performance vehicle, I’d prefer a taller tire sidewall to give a bit of pothole impact resistance – a couple of winters spent selling tires here in crater-like Ohio will do that to you, too – but the difference is negligible here. I seriously dig the look of these wheels on this Highlander.
That Platinum package adds another $3,120 to the already-plush Limited trim, adding a panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel, and second-row heated seats, as well as those lovely wheels. The kids love any time they can warm their rears after a cold soccer practice, and since I never seem to remember to wear gloves when chipping ice off a windscreen I’m partial to a heated wheel, but when a base Highlander can be had for around $31K I’m skeptical of the value of this package. Maybe I’m just cheap.
The perforated leather seats found on the Limited and Platinum trims are impressively comfortable, with beautifully-stitched black leather in my tester. The center console is cavernous – the various implements of electronic distraction my kids use to isolate themselves from the world can easily be hidden – or confiscated – when required.
However, the mood of the interior is quite dour. While there are flashes of silver-finished plastic trim on the dashboard and door panels, the darkness of the interior is nearly overwhelming. It’s not helped by the eight-inch Toyota Entune touch-screen, which is one of the least user-friendly systems I’ve encountered. Everything works with practice, but it’s just clunky. Sound quality from the JBL-branded speakers was superb, however.
I’m amused, too, by Toyota’s insistence in making a digital clock a separate component from the audio display. I wonder if it’s a habit from the days of optional everything, like on my mother’s 1990 Corolla, which was so stripped that it had a blank plate rather than a clock.
My rear-seat passengers were pleased by the heated second row, though when the youngest was relegated to the third row when Grandma sat up front she did complain about cold leather. Then she promptly dozed off. Her big sister noted that she never felt knees in her back, so the third row is perfect at least for those under five feet tall. At 6’4”, I didn’t attempt climbing into the wayback. I’m sorry, B&B.
For a big wagon riding on somewhat low-profile tires, the Highlander has excellent ride quality. Those Ohio potholes were dispatched with just a mild thump – otherwise, road noise was minimal, and wind noise around the A-pillar was only noticeable when the speedometer reached rude numbers. You’ll never forget that you’re driving a tall, two-and-a-quarter ton machine, but the three-row Toyota doesn’t complain when pushed.
I suppose that’s what attracted car shoppers years ago to full-size wagons – the capability to go anywhere within reason without the worry of whether the car could handle the journey. Open the hatch, toss all of your stuff in, and go. That do-everything, go anywhere mindset is the essence of the modern midsize crossover, too, and the Highlander makes a strong case.
Incidentally, I haven’t seen any new model launch invites from Wagon Queen for years.
[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]